Randal Collier-Ford Interview
There’s a fascinating mix of drones and sample-based sound design in The Architects, Remnants and Promethean trilogy. Do you create your work using an established methodology or do you tend to be more experimental in your approach? What might be a typical way of creating music for you?
Experimentation is my first method of approach towards every track, and record I create. I like to find new sounds, build new sounds, pull them apart and see what new weird ways I can glue them all together. I don’t like to formulate every track I produce, for the most part, as I like to feel their natural flow or imbue a sense of presence into each and every one of them, to give them their own signatures. Someone told me a very, very long time ago that music is its own language, and I took that to heart a little too much, haha. I like to believe that any song is capable of speaking multiple languages, telling multiple stories, all at once. Constantly shifting around, and never staying the same, but always easy for the listener to translate. But, much more like an onion, I like for people to peel back its layers to find more.
But, to put it bluntly, I usually sit down with a set assortment of new samples to tinker with and rip apart, and see what I can stumble across as far as building a new sound, or creating a measure or loop that I really like. Then I’ll render it and tuck it away to come back to at a later date. This usually helps me speed the process along whenever I have a concrete idea of what new track I’d like to make, as I can bounce around these samples to find a base idea, then build my sounds on top of them.
Do you have a favourite piece of hardware or software you consistently use, one that acts as a cornerstone for all your creative work?
Not entirely, no. I’ve been using the same DAW I used back when I wrote Dark Corners, but this is more of a laziness/fear factor to move on to different methods and programs. I do like to build my arsenal of VSTs constantly, I’m always on the lookout for something new, cool, or weird. Right now, I’ve been on a real kick for VSTs to aid in my spatial separations and depths. Using majority wet signals can leave much to be desired if you’re not playing with its space outside of simple Left and Right spatial frequencies. I prefer to both emulate and create from scratch a sense of sounds truly being far in front of the listener, or behind, below, above, even directly in front of the listener. That sense of sounds being in a real, physical space, can not only add to the atmosphere, but also free up so much room on the technical side of things when composing sounds. And that usually helps whenever I go too far with my layering.
I should admit that I’ve rendered more tracks than I care to admit utilizing the iZotope Vinyl VSTs, as well as my new favorite toy, Stereotool v3. While casting out a wet channel, Stereotool allows me more room to really add that spatial depth of the sound, especially if I layer in some less than desirable VSTs beforehand, like Dimension Expander and BitterSweet (this first one can aid in new ways to move that spatial depth in a pinch to give new ideas for both bigger and smaller sounds). And, thanks to a certain someone, I tend to rely on Ferox for finalizing a very powerful sound or frequency so it can meld into my layers more effectively, whenever necessary.
There is a definite correlation of apocalyptic themes in the trilogy, spanning the ancient and future worlds. To what extent are the albums idea-driven, where the themes are adapted to a musical medium. Or did the music come first and the themes evolve thereafter?
Funnily enough, an odd mix of both. During the trilogy, I had a very general idea of where everything was going to go, as every record before The Architects had been a “trial run” of sorts. I wasn’t entirely sure before The Architects how to properly weave an overarching story between multiple albums, and the ideas constantly changed. And, it was around the time of my first record with Cryo Chamber, that I knew how I not only wanted to move forward, but how I wanted my previous records to still be a part of the story moving forward. Leaving all of the previous records as an anthology of sorts, much like Apex, that held their own individual ties to the themes and stories.
Many times, as I’d try to iron out the complete theme or story of each record, I’d think about how I’d want the story or world to be told in some sense of an order, but I had little skill in The Architects with telling this story directly. So, I took an indirect approach and let myself learn from this decision, moving forward towards Remnants. Come time, when Remnants enters production, and many things had changed in my production methods and how I wanted to approach storytelling, I took a page from my last record to come with a natural drone approach that mixed industrial sounds and production, to give a very cinematic feel to the album’s flow. Unfortunately, it was around the half way point, maybe a bit after, in production that I had a catastrophic computer crash that corrupted a lot of my data. So, I had lost about 6 or 7 tracks in total (a few were still demos at this point), as well as countless projects files and rendered tracks. I didn’t want to spend another 6 months or more rebuilding after this, so I pressed forward with what I had and what I could finish.
Promethean, as a record, was a whole new beast for me. I had the great opportunity to utilize the knowledge of my mistakes and my growth as a studio producer to bring out a more polished execution of what I had intended for Remnants. And I couldn’t have been happier with the end result. I was more focused at this time with the sounds that I wanted, giving little room for the sounds to drive me. I was heavily invested into an idea and wouldn’t let myself stray too far, save to let myself feel the sounds as they were playing, just in case an idea popped into my head to give greater life to the music and atmosphere.
What major influences might be said to underlie your work as a whole, whether from music, books, art, film or nature and life itself?
For the most part, I keep the specifics pretty secret, aside from other producers, records, or a film or two. Some may have seen a couple of tracks I uploaded in the past that carried a heavy influence in where I live, here in the Pacific Northwest. Though their sounds were very light, airy, and upbeat, they still held a special place in my heart. Science Fiction, as a genre, has been one of the big inspirations I’ve worn on my sleeve, especially cyberpunk. But, as some had pointed out in the past with Remnants, I have a great love for the sounds and musical scores of old sci-fi films. But this came from my love of old synth music during its peak back in the 70s and 80s for films. I always held the notion that synth-based musical scores were the first modern sounds to be considered classics. They were the new original sound/instrument that have only been innovated upon, but never fully outdone. Much like the guitar, the piano, percussions, and wind instruments, it was something that could never be considered outdated. Just improved upon.
I suppose you could say that, music is, within itself, my major inspiration.
You live in Washington State, known for its spectacular atmospheric landscapes, as featured in Twin Peaks and so on. How much does the geography of your environment, or places you’ve visited in general, feature as an influence in your work?
Not a lot of people know this about me, but I don’t get out much, haha. But when I do, I think it would be fair to say that I’ve taken some influences from what I see and experience. From the chaotic movements of downtown Seattle to the calm of the small village by the water where I live. I’ve taken much inspiration from my time spent in the Mojave, letting its dark nights give me time to reflect to its dawns and dusk to give me a real sense of perspective when I want to see and feel how music can project what I am seeing in that moment to others. But I let these few influences bounce around with my own imagination while writing out any track, whether a piano piece, a drone score, or an electro track. Then again, I’m quite manic with sticking with one musical genre. I hate staying in one field when projecting these influences
Do you prefer to play live or to dabble in the dark arts in the solitude of your studio work space?
I’m mostly a shy person (though others would argue against that claim), so studio work is my preferred habitat. I did enjoy my time doing live shows, meeting new people who became supporters of my work, or who have never experienced Dark Ambient music before and fell in love. It made me so happy to be the introduction into the genre for so many people. I had the pleasure to not only share the stage with fantastic bands I’ve always wanted to see perform live, bands I even grew up listening to! But it’s been a pleasure to befriend individuals from these bands and create memories with them during our short times together. Live shows have opened many doors for me as a producer and as an individual, and I wouldn’t trade my time with all of these individuals and crowds for anything. Though, there was at least one point when I did fan boy a bit with a band I had the chance to open for in a venue I never thought I’d have the chance to perform in.
But I’d rather stay a homebody, at least for the time being. I’ve had plans for the past couple of years to make a return to the stage thanks to the interest of certain individuals and festival organizations. But I’d want the overall experience to be just that, an experience, not just a show. And, without discussing the details, I’ve slowly been working on ideas for a visual/audio production for a medium-scale, hour+ long show not meant for standing venues. It’s a lofty goal, but one I wish to achieve, so I can continue being the introduction for many people into the genre in a much greater way.